Whoever is named as the new President of Baseball Operations (quickly please) will anoint a new General Manager (quickly please) and that person will be immediately presented with a complicated to do list. MattyMets presents a cheat sheet so they can hit the ground running and get us back in contention in 2022.
- New On-Field Management – Except for pitching coach Jeremy Hefner, the slate is clean. Since this talented but imperfect team has underperformed under two rookie managers, it’s time to bring in a skipper with gravitas. The Mets need an experienced, battle-tested on-field manager who can motivate players, push the right buttons, and make the tough calls. For the right price, Bruce Bochy and his three World Series rings will come out of retirement or Terry Francona will leave Cleveland, though that might require some compensation. Young front-office tech whizzes may be all the rage, but many teams that succeeded in 2021 did so behind the steady leadership of veteran managers who have winning coursing through their veins like Tony La Russa and Dusty Baker.
- Solidify the Starting Rotation – Meet with trainers (who may also be new), doctors, players, agents, etc. to determine exactly where Jacob deGrom and Noah Syndergaard are at. If these two are healthy and presumed at full strength by March, we’re set with a 1-2 punch as good as any in baseball. Syndergaard will almost certainly accept the qualifying offer of $18.4 million to re-establish his value. Marcus Stroman has proven himself as a solid #3 and should be retained. Since there are only so many quality starters available in free agency, the new GM should pounce and offer him a contract in the neighborhood of 4-years/$80 million. If it takes a 5th year as an option, so be it. Zack Wheeler signed with the Phillies for 5-years/$118 million and it’s hard to envision Stroman eclipsing that. Carlos Carrasco, Taijuan Walker, David Peterson, and Tylor Megill are all under contract for 2022, so barring a trade, there’s not really a rotation opening if Stroman and Syndergaard are both retained. Tom Szapucki and Corey Oswalt are expected to be healthy by spring training, giving us 9 viable starters. If deGrom or Syndergaard are not 100% or Stroman does not return, the Mets will need to turn to a free agent market that includes Cy Young winners Clayton Kershaw, Max Scherzer, Justin Verlander, and Zack Grienke, as well as names like Kevin Gausman and Robbie Ray. [Side note: MattyMets called for signing both of those last two last off-season, citing the extra importance of pitching depth coming off the shortened 2020 season. Given the seasons those two had, we might have made the playoffs. Alas, I’m not in the running for the real GM position.]
- Bolster the Bullpen – Closer Edwin Diaz and setup men Seth Lugo, Trevor May, Drew Smith, and Miguel Castro will all be back, as will depth pieces like Yennsy Diaz, Jake Reed, and Sean Reid-Foley. The top priority is bringing back Aaron Loup, who had a dazzling season as the primary lefty out of the pen. To make sure he doesn’t leave Queens, we should offer him a contract along the lines of 2-years/$16 million. With Jeurys Familia, Brad Hand, Robert Gsellman (likely DFA), and Heath Hembree all leaving, the Mets can use another lock down setup man with some closing experience. Some available names include Ian Kennedy, Daniel Hudson, Adam Ottavino, Ryan Tepera, Alex Colome, Kendall Graveman, and Corey Knebel. We should be able to land one of these hurlers on a 2-year deal.
- Lengthen the Lineup – This presents the biggest challenge for our new GM as the talent is there on paper, but the results have not followed. Presumably, some of the underperformers will bounce back in 2022, but which ones? MattyMets is betting on Jeff McNeil, whose track record indicates he is hitter, as well as a gamer. Second base should belong to McNeil and in fact, it might be smart to lock him up now that his value is down. The right hitting coach, a few adjustments, and a little better luck on BABiP, and McNeil is back to the flying squirrel we know and love. Javier Baez has a flashy glove, right-handed power and an amigo at shortstop, but he’s going to command too much money and the Mets have too many other fish to fry. Not to mention his track record points to him being a risky gamble on a long-term deal and the Mets are going to have to start thinking about how we can lock up Pete Alonso and extend deGrom. We’re settled at first base, shortstop, catcher, centerfield, and with the above plan, second base. That leaves question marks at third base, where Jonathan Villar is likely to leave via free agency, left field, where Dom Smith is playing out of position and coming off a tough year, and right field where we’re likely to find a vacancy as Michael Conforto is unlikely to accept a qualifying offer and the Mets are not expected to offer a big contract coming off such a bad season. Even with Steve Cohen’s deep pockets, it’s not realistic to upgrade at all three of those positions. Kris Bryant makes too much sense as he can fill the third base vacancy for a year or two until Mark Vientos, Brett Baty, or even Ronny Mauricio are ready and then switch to the outfield. As a Scott Boras client, not to mention a former MVP, Rookie of the Year, and World Series champion, Bryant won’t come cheap and he won’t be inclined to sign quickly, however, with a new owner and Sandy Alderson no longer shying away from Boras, this could get done in a precedent-setting move. And it won’t be the only one as Steve Cohen should sign off on releasing/buying out Robinson Cano despite his $24 million salary ($20.5 million by the Mets and $3.5 million by the Mariners).Meanwhile, Brandon Nimmo, who has improved defensively in center, can be flanked by Smith and a new right fielder. Nick Castellanos is the big fish, coming off another monster season with the bat, but his glovework makes him more of a DH. Some worthy free agent options include Avisail Garcia, Jorge Soler, and Tommy Pham. J.D. Davis, who is still quite affordable, can either be used as trade bait or as the DH if the National League finally pulls the trigger on that rule change. It wouldn’t be the worst thing to use him in a Wilmer Flores type role off the bench either.
- Balance the Bench – The bench mob was fun to root for in 2021 with a lot of scrappy players and surprise heroes. Problem is many of them got exposed when injuries forced them into everyday play. Glove first players Tomas Nido, Luis Guillorme, Jose Peraza, and Kevin Pillar (assuming he exercises his $2.9 million player option) will all be back. Jonthan Villar, who really wound up being a starter, is unlikely to return. A team in need of a starting second baseman will likely scoop him up for more than he’s worth as a reserve. Adding punch and versatility to the bench will come via moving Davis to a utility role.
This off-season activity would lead the 2022 Mets roster to look like this:
Brandon Nimmo CF – 6 million
Francisco Lindor SS – 34.1 million
Pete Alonso 1B – 7.3 million
Kris Bryant – 27.5 million
Dominic Smith LF – 4 million
Tommy Pham RF – 12 million
Jeff McNeil 3B – 2.5 million
James McCann C – 8.15 million
J.D. Davis DH/Utility – 2.7 million
Luis Guillorme IF – 700,000
Kevin Pillar OF – 2.9 million
Tomas Nido C – 900,000
Jose Peraza IF – 1 million
Jacob deGrom – 36 million
Noah Syndergaard – 18.4 million
Marcus Stroman – 20 million
Carlos Carrasco – 12 million
Taijuan Walker – 7 million
David Peterson – 600,000
Edwin Diaz – 10.4 million
Trevor May – 7.75 million
Seth Lugo – 3.7 million
Ian Kennedy – 6 million
Miguel Castro – 2.6 million
Drew Smith – 900,000
Sean Reid-Foley/Jake Reed – 900,000
This off-season activity would put the Mets opening day payroll at $256 million (including Cano), a notable increase that will likely cross the luxury tax threshold, but worth it because it will lead to additional playoff revenue. Cohen has stated he has no issue going over the luxury tax threshold and the new GM should hold him to that promise.